Hardee announces end to Farm Center project
Published 7:13 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022
By Carey Reeder | Staff Writer
Chilton County Commission Chairman Jimmie Hardee held a press conference on June 7 at the Chilton County courthouse to discuss the status of the Alabama Farm Center project.
“Due to some recent events concerning the status of the Alabama Farm Center project, I feel the need to inform the citizens of Chilton County of some disappointing news that impacts the future of the ALFA project, known as the Alabama Rural Economic Center,” Hardee said. “After several attempts to speak with the AFF (Alabama Farmers Federation) representative Jimmy Parnell regarding the final execution of this letter of intent, I am disappointed and disheartened to announce that the Farm Center project will not be moving forward at this time. I have advised Mr. Parnell that the people of Chilton County need to hear the truth and understand why this project is not going forward.”
The city of Clanton and the commission submitted a revised letter of intent to expedite the process by submitting a letter with nine previously agreed upon commitments between the three stakeholders — Clanton, the commission and the Alabama Farmers Federation.
The last agreement would shrink the project to 233 acres “to accommodate a more flexible and responsible development of the entire farm center complex,” Hardee said.
The site plan provided by the Alabama Farmers Federation did not include the 5,000-seat, air-conditioned arena or parking for RV or other recreation vehicles. The rest of the property would be retained by the city and county.
Hardee said that those negotiations reached a crossroads because representatives from ALFA wanted to add a provision of the letter of intent after the completion of the Farm Center. The provision said that there would be additional tax revenues committed to the Farm Center development from outside the 233 acres.
Hardee said that the original agreement was that the Farm Center would keep all of the revenue within the 233 acres for debt and maintenance, and would not discuss any revenue outside the farm center until the completion of the project.
“Mayor (Jeff) Mims and I agreed it would be premature for us to agree to any funding source five years from now. That would be the sole responsibility of the leaders and elected officials at that time,” Hardee said.
In 2015, the commission and the city of Clanton began the process to explore industrial development to benefit local businesses and citizens of the county.
“Economic development is a team sport that involves both governmental leadership and private sector participation,” Hardee said. “It requires the engagement of multiple stake holders to develop a long-term, strategic vision for a project to be successfully completed. The stake holders must agree on a common vision for a project, and combine their resources, including financial support, to create the incentive to forge a healthy and working partnership.”
Hardee commented that that is not an easy task, and that changes throughout the life of the project can affect it being completed, which “are out of the control of the public officials and can alter the course of a project from start to finish.”
On Dec. 8, 2015, the commission and the city of Clanton acquired 535 acres of land off Interstate 65, Exit 212 to be used for economic development.
On Feb. 27, 2019 the Alabama Farmers Federation, the commission and the city of Clanton held a press conference to announce the site of the proposed $150 million agriculture complex, or the Alabama Rural Economic Center.
In January 2021, ALFA told the city and the commission it was ready to move forward with the construction of the farm center, and requested they both transfer the land deeds to either the AFF or cooperative district. The city and commission agreed to do that under a limited warranty deed that had multiple provisions including — the Alabama Farmers Federation must commence construction of the new facility within 12 months of the date the deed was transferred, and the Alabama Farmers Federation would commit to constructing a minimum of 350 square foot floor space within 12 months of the deed being transferred. If not met, then the property would be return to the city and Chilton County, which it did in May 2022.
Hardee became the Commission Chairman in November 2021 and continued negotiations between the stakeholders.
“Our intentions were to reach an agreement on material terms that would best benefit all entities, and most of all the tax payers of Chilton County,” Hardee said.
Hardee said since 2019, there have been many attempts to develop a contract with all parties that would allow the project to move forward but to no avail.
Hardee addressed the 1 cent sales tax that was passed for “infrastructure, public safety and economic development” at the end of the press conference.
“This important tax was never created, approved, promoted or set aside solely for the farm center,” Hardee said. “We are indeed disappointed that the farm center is not going forward. However, the commission has other sites and properties we are promoting for economic growth and opportunities in our county.”